Mo Farah, double gold medal-winning distance runner, showed us this summer how important strategy is to winning a race. He runs the race from the back of the pack and then over the last 500m or so accelerates to the front to take first place. I decided to try the same tactic recently, running in Alexandra Park (home to Alexandra Palace). I had no problem in running most of my race at the back but haven’t quite mastered the second ingredient, of acceleration to the front. I ended up second-from-last, though I did come second in my age bracket (there were only two of us).
This was a 5k race last Saturday morning and was my first experience of a parkrun. These are free weekly runs held across the UK, at 9am every Saturday morning. They are run over a carefully measured course, and are timed races. Once you have registered with parkrun then you can turn up to any event with your individual barcode and run. Some technical jiggery-pokery puts the results up on the parkrun website – you can see the results for the AllyPally run that I did here. It also calculates things like your PB and your “age grade” (how well the runner has done relative to their age and sex). You can see a summary of all your results too.
I first noticed parkrun on Facebook. A couple of my friends (notably Dr. B.D. from Yarm, and Mr. T.R. from Seaford) would post status updates like “Ran a 5K PB of 21:42 in parkrun”. For some time I just thought they had been for a run in a park but after a year or so I finally twigged that parkrun, despite the lack of an initial capital, was in fact a proper name. I quickly registered on the website and printed out my barcode, and finally last Saturday got around to running with the group.
There is nothing new about organised running groups of course – there are many groups across the country – Run England has a directory including many beginners groups. Many of these require to join and pay a fee, though. The beauty of parkrun is that it is free but highly organised. It started as a single event back in 2004 in Bushy Park. Three years later it spread to Wimbledon and Banstead, and then spread more widely. There are now nearly 140 parkrun events taking place each week in the UK, with another dozen or so overseas. Regular running clubs see parkrun as complementary – people may start with parkrun and then join a more formal running club as they become hooked on running.
I have run on-and-off for several years; never really seriously (though I have done a few marathons) but just for some exercise and for the pleasure of doing it. Ten years ago I started to get knee troubles and have done less running – fewer runs and shorter runs – which becomes a downward spiral. As I run less I become less fit (and more fat) which makes it harder to run, so I run less. I can break out of the spiral but need some external motivating factor to help me. Often that motivation comes from someone asking me if I want to go for a run – the place where I work is surrounded by lovely footpaths and fields so quite a few people go running at lunchtime.
I have just started using an app on my phone to record each run I do. Runkeeper uses GPS to record the route, and also tracks the time and running speed, plus altitude. The app then exports this to the Runkeeper website, where you can view the whole run on a map and see how you performed. I think it is quite fun. I first noticed it because someone I follow on Twitter for his science policy tweets (Dr. S.H of Swindon) started tweeting about runs he had completed with Runkeeper. I had previously mapped out routes on sites like Mapometer or MapMyRun but I find Runkeeper better because of the phone app tie-in. More Android apps are listed here and I see that there is also an iPhone app for parkrun.
I think the parkrun could be another motivation for me – 9am every Saturday morning – with the added benefit of seeing how my 5k performance progresses over time. And if (when) my time starts to improve I can even share (boast about) it on Facebook.